Mr. Harrington to Mr. Seward.
Sir: Switzerland has recently been subjected to what may justly be termed a national calamity. After an exceptionally dry and agreeable season the country has been visited by an heretofore unequalled rainfall, and much of the cantons of Grisons, Tessin, the Valais, Grlaris, and St. Gall, and Uri, have in consequence thereof been literally desolated by inundations. The mountain rivulets and cascades suddenly swelled to torrents, swept villages, hamlets, cattle, woods, bridges, dikes, earth, and stone, as debris upon the fields below, which are thus rendered forever hopeless wastes.
The appeal of the authorities of the canton of Tessin to their more fortunate fellow-countrymen officially sets forth the effects of the storm, and this description may be taken as applicable in a greater or less extent to the other cantons named:
In the night of the 27–28th September our canton was struck by a frightful catastrophe. A volume of water precipitated itself as a deluge into the valleys of Blenio, of the Levantine, the Rivieva, the Venasco, and the Maggia. This scourge was accompanied by the destruction of buildings, and by the fall of trees, by earth and rock slides, in such manner as if all the elements had combined to rival each other in the work of devastation. All the beautiful country that extends from Giornico and Olivone to Biasca, unrecognizable to day, is nothing but a mass of debris. Roads, bridges, and dikes, are destroyed; houses, mills, and stables, have been swept away; the rich forests, the fertile fields, and vineyards, but yesterday flourishing, have disappeared; cattle have perished by thousands, and that which adds to the consternation is the loss of more than fifty persons; some surprised in their sleep, and others the victims of their devotion while attempting to rescue and assist the drowning; fathers and mothers of families have been crushed under their falling houses and their bodies swept off by the rushing waters.
The disaster surpasses all that imagination can picture. Thousands of families have been struck by the calamity, and too many of them have been reduced to the last extremity, without roof, without clothes, without bread, and several deprived of their fathers.[Page 227]
The losses, which for the moment cannot be stated, will rise to millions. * *
The authorities, the societies and the citizens of this canton, reserved by Heaven for so cruel an experience, are occupying themselves in providing for the immediate wants of the victims; but all our forces will not suffice for this immense burden. To you we address the appeal, which, in this supreme necessity, is an utterance of the heart rather than the thoughts. We ask of our brothers, with confidence, not to abandon us to these blows of destiny, and that they share with us the cross of adversity. All species of succor will be accepted by us with thankful hearts, and the cantonal authorities will take care that the most suffering shall be the first to receive the benefits of your charities.
To the Swiss people, * * * so blessed by God, the desolate of the valley of the Tessin address their appeals and their prayers.
Lugana, October 1, &c., &c., &c.
Subsequent information proves that this sad picture is not overwrought.
The governments, both federal and local, as also the people, are promptly and generally responding to the appeals of which this is but one. The President of the confederation, at the instance of the federal council, at once repaired to the scene of the disaster. The military engineers were immediately dispatched to superintend and direct the restoration and rebuilding of the highways, bridges, and dikes, in order to restore communications altogether suspended. Citizen committees have been organized in the remaining cantons for the purpose of visiting each house for assistance, and every possible means is put in requisition to relieve the sufferers and repair the otherwise heavy public damages. The disaster, however, has been so extended, and the number of people left at the threshold of winter, without shelter, clothes, and bread, has been too large to be more than scantily and partially repaired and relieved by the local contributions, however generous they may be.
I am not aware that appeals will be made to the Swiss, or others, resident abroad. Should such be addressed to the resident Swiss of the United States, I beg to state thus briefly, but officially, that no human foresight could have evaded this blow, and that this cry of distress appeals with equal force to the benevolent of our countrymen of whatever origin or nationality they may be.
With great respect, your obedient servant,
Hon. William H. Seward, Secretary of State, Washington, D. C.